The hypocrisy of our our “friendly” giants: Big Oil in our back yards

Repost from The Martinez Gazette
[Editor: The following letter to the editor of The Martinez Gazette comes from our sister city across the Carquinez Strait, but it describes life in every refinery town.  Like Shell Oil, Valero in Benicia does an excellent job of contributing to popular charitable causes here and promotes itself as highly concerned with public health and safety  all the while filling our California skies with pollutants and seeking permission to bring in toxic and dangerous tar-sands and Bakken crudes that lay waste to the earth and its inhabitants from the strip mines and fracking fields all the way to our back door.  – RS]

‘Shell Oil is the hypocrisy at Earth Day’

 May 4, 2014

Dear editor:

Martinez celebrated John Muir’s Birthday and Earth Day last weekend at the John Muir Historical Site. Attendees were offered environmental information from sustainable and recyclable, to energy and water saving to causes of greenhouse gas (GHG) and global warming with the usual sponsors of the IBEW, Republic Services, City of Martinez, and Shell Oil of Martinez.

How does a fossil fuel industry corporation that produces 175 tons of hydrocarbons a day at it’s Martinez Refinery, owns 60 percent of Canadian Boreal Forest that is decimating the ecology to strip mine highly toxic tar sands crude oil to be shipped to its refineries, and has less than 2.5 percent of its overall expenditures in sustainable and renewable energy while totally divesting itself of solar energy and decreasing wind energy interests, get a place at John Muir’s Birthday/ Earth Day event? Certainly, John Muir would have left them off the list.

Shell and Big Oil was the elephant at the party. The Earth Day hypocrisy is that refineries in the Bay Area are the single largest stationary source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Shell is responsible for 492 million pounds of VOCs per year. Contra Costa County is the third most toxic county in the state of California. Short term exposure to sulfur dioxide, a refining byproduct, can result in respiratory illness and cardiovascular issues as well as aggravation of asthma. Do you or someone you know have asthma or respiratory illnesses?

There is no spare the air day for Shell or any refinery. When you can’t put a log on the fire, Shell emits over 700,000 tons of hydrocarbons per year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Shell as well as the four other refineries in the Bay Area, are now refining a dirtier crude oil high in sulfur and other metals which emits more hydrocarbons. The tar sand oil from Alberta Canada is heavy like tar and sinks when it hits water, making oil spill recovery impossible. Shell receives this type of crude by ship and a spill of this type while off loading would foul our drinking water in Martinez.

Bakken crude oil, extracted from the Dakotas, is very explosive because of its low flash point and can explode before it is refined. This type of crude is being shipped by rail car through our downtown to the Bay Area refineries and has been in the news recently with train derailments and explosions in Casselton, North Dakota, Louisiana, Lac Megantic Canada and most recently in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The fossil fuel industry is always trying to improve their image within their communities despite their records as gross polluters. Chevron takes a single page ad in the Times every week telling us what a partner they are in the community since sending 15,000 residents to neighboring hospitals after a 2012 fire at their Richmond Refinery. Shell distributed flyers at Earth Day proposing to modernize their Martinez facility by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 metric tons a year and reducing water usage by 15 percent. Why did it take them until the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the fossil fuel industry is the leading contributor of GHG  emissions and a drought in California to get them to start reducing the amount of toxins they emit and the amount of water they use?

If the fossil fuel industry was truly committed to solving the energy issue as it relates to climate change and becoming a leader of green technology, they would not have eliminated wind and solar energy from their repertoire. The easy to extract oil has now been processed and these companies insist on extracting every drop of oil by drilling, hydro fracking, or strip mining to the point where the cost to extract crude oil is equal to the cost to burn it in an efficient engine.

The hypocrisy lies in the fact that Shell Oil made almost $20 billion dollars last year and was awarded the Martinez Business of the Year Award all the while convincing the planners, leaders, and deciders that they are entitled to a seat at the Birthday Party because they put change in the pockets of the community.

Our children and grandchildren are the apples of our eyes and the soft spot in our hearts. Shell Oil knows this and they focus their donations to Martinez Education Foundation, Martinez Unified School District, school scholarships, back packs so our kids can shelter in place, etc… for the children. THIS is the hypocrisy. They contaminate the ground, spew toxics that foul our air, our children’s air: because the money in the community’s pockets makes this poisoning acceptable.

Shell Oil is the Earth Day Hypocrisy.

– James Neu, Martinez

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